After a total of 114 years, sisters retire from GBMC

July 03, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Cynthia Brown was 26 years old when she and her younger sister, Muriel Lindsay, boarded a bus in West Baltimore to start jobs as nursing assistants at the recently opened Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

Bypassing hospitals closer to their homes, the women chose the Towson medical center because another sister, Carol Wheatley, had started there seven months earlier as a nursing assistant in the nursery.

"She kept talking about what a nice place it was to work," Brown said.

Brown agreed. And now, nearly 37 years later, the 63-year-old woman is the last of four sisters to retire from GBMC. Collectively, the family has put in 114 years at the hospital.

"It's quite remarkable," said Mary Kraaij, clinical manager of the medical unit where Brown and Lindsay worked. "They've been here almost their whole work life. I don't know how many families could claim they gave that much service to one institution."

Brown is scheduled to work her last shift at GBMC on Wednesday. Lindsay's last day was June 25. Wheatley retired last summer after 36 years. And another sister, Francesca Young, worked about five years at GBMC.

The women don't entirely understand the fuss being made over them. At retirement parties and unit luncheons, they have heard hospital administrators remark upon their longevity. But to them, they were just doing their jobs the only way they knew how.

"I just don't see it as being unusual," said Lindsay, 62, who has six children, 17 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

"We all had family and had to raise them, and the only way to raise them was to work," Lindsay said. "Instead of sitting home and waiting for a check to come, we got out there and did what we had to do."

West Baltimore home

The women grew up in a rowhouse full of children on Argyle Avenue in West Baltimore, not far from the Royal Theater in the heart of the city's African-American entertainment and business district. Their neighborhood was known as Marble Hill for its seemingly endless stretch of white marble steps.

There, Frank and Mildred Bailey raised five daughters and one son while each putting in more than three decades of hard work. Frank Bailey worked in power production at Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. for 37 years, while Mildred Bailey devoted nearly 30 years to Provident Hospital, where she worked as a dietary supervisor and helped serve patients' meals.

The 82-year-old woman volunteers four hours a day with a Baltimore day care center's foster grandparent program -- something she has done for about 19 years. Brown intends to join her mother in the volunteer program.

"We were never a bunch that rest," Brown said with a chuckle.

Brown spent most of her years at GBMC working 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. as a nursing assistant, providing the most basic care for patients, including bathing and feeding them.

About 12 years ago, she was promoted to nursing support technician and a daytime schedule, responsible for drawing blood, inserting IVs, catheterizing patients and running electrocardiograph tests.

Reputation for calm

She has spent the past three years working as a nursing unit secretary, where she earned a reputation as "the calm, respectful and grandmotherly member of the team," said Kraaij, Brown's supervisor.

Over the years, Brown and her sisters watched the hospital change. When they started in 1967, their 45-minute bus ride cost 35 cents, GBMC had only one building, doctors slept in unused patient beds, and used medical tools were sent to Central Supply to be washed and sterilized.

Now, the bus costs $1.60, GBMC sits on a sprawling campus of medical buildings and parking garages, doctors have sleeping quarters, and hospital staff rely much more on disposable medical supplies.

What remained unchanged, however, was the joy of going to work in a friendly atmosphere where they ate, laughed and prayed nearly every day with their sisters.

Brown, the oldest of the four sisters who worked at the hospital, outlasted them all.

Asked why she stayed so long, Brown responded, "Besides the fact that I love to eat and keep a roof over my head? It was a nice place to work. It really was."

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